Future Forty Updated for June
It’s the first of the month, and the major league team is frustrating to talk about, so that means it’s time for another Future Forty update, where we can focus on the future of the franchise rather than the present. Escapism at its finest.
May was quite a different month on the farm than April. Guys who started the season fell apart, while others found their form and surged ahead. I’ve gathered quite a few scouting reports from guys who have been scouting for a long time, and what they’ve seen has shifted my opinion a bit on a few players. So, let’s get to the guys who have made some waves, one way or another.
Wladimir Balentien’s OPS in May is 250 points lower than in April. That’s a huge dropoff in production, but also highlights why looking at value statistics such as OPS for minor leaguers will lead to flawed conclusions. Take a look at the numbers that reveal his secondary skills:
April: 10.1% BB/AB, 19.1% K/AB, 36.3% XBH/H, 1:1 HR/2B, 5 SB/1 CS
May: 11.0% BB/AB, 18.3% K/AB, 32.2% XBH/H, 1:1 HR/2B, 5 SB/1 CS
The walk and strikeout rates are statistical ties, and the XBH/H rate is basically the same. He’s split his extra base hits right down the middle between doubles and homers each month. He’s even stealing bases at the same clip. The massive drop in OPS is due entirely to the fact that balls that were going for singles in April became outs in May. There’s no less consistent skill in baseball for a hitter than the ability to hit a single, as the difference is often a couple inches here or there. It’s a ball falling in or sneaking under a glove. Hitting a lot of singles is rarely a sign of actual skill, with Ichiro being an obvious exception.
So, if you were to look at Balentien’s BA/OBP/SLG splits by month, you’d come to the conclusion that he was a significantly better player in April than he was last year. In terms of helping the Rainiers win, you’d be right. In terms of evaluating his talent level, which is really what prospect analysis is all about, you’d be missing the point, though. However you felt about Balentien at the end of April should be exactly how you feel about him now, because he just had the exact same month, just with a significantly smaller dose of luck.
I won’t talk too much about Adam Jones here, because we’ve covered the topic already, but he’s ready for the majors. 17 of his 33 hits in May went for extra bases, including 8 home runs. He’s improved his approach at the plate and he’s crushing mistakes. His defense is also vastly improved over where it was last season. If he was on the 25 man roster, he’d be the Mariners fifth best hitter and second best defensive outfielder. He’s a significantly better player than Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro, Ben Broussard, or Richie Sexson right now. If the Mariners are serious about winning games, they should find a way to get him at-bats in the major league line-up.
And finally, from Tacoma, Jeff Clement. There are things to like in his statistical profile. 19 of his 42 hits have gone for extra bases and he’s drawn 20 walks in 172 at-bats. He’s running an .859 OPS in May, a huge upgrade over the .681 mark he posted in April and the .668 mark he put up in Tacoma last year. Behind only Ben Broussard, he’s got the second most left-handed power in the organization. So, there are reasons to be somewhat optimistic.
Good luck finding a scout who thinks he’s going to be much of a major league player, though. The reports on him from the first two months of the season have been absolutely brutal. Everyone says he’s swinging a very slow bat, can’t get around on fastballs on the inner half, chases pitches up in the zone, and is only effective when he knows he’s getting a fastball from a guy who can’t get it up there faster than 92. I haven’t gotten a good explanation for why his bat has slowed so much since college, but everyone agrees that it has. He hasn’t made the transition to wood bats well, and at this point, his offensive production is a question mark. To boot, pretty much everyone has given up on him as a major league catcher. He’s DH’ing more often, and his major league position now looks like first base or designated hitter.
For a guy who turns 24 in a few months and has lost his defensive value, he needs to be tearing the cover off the ball in the PCL. He’s just not, and not many people think he’s going to start doing so any time soon. I’ve downgraded him on the list, and he’s now more of a guy the M’s hope might be able to help them as a role player next year than any kind of catcher of the future. If the team could have that pick to do over again, I’m pretty sure they’d go another direction.
Okay, enough Tacoma stuff. Let’s talk about Tui’s struggles the last month. Remember what you read about Wlad a few paragraphs ago? Yea, same thing. He’s actually jumped his walk rate up by 50% during his slump, is getting XBH at the same rate, but all those April singles have turned into May outs. He’s not a .370 hitter, but he’s not a .205 hitter either. The lack of power is still a problem, but the improved approach at the plate is a significant development, and I’m still very happy with the first two months he’s put together. The ball will start finding holes again, and if Tui can learn to drive the ball more often, he can still turn himself into a useful major league player.
Down in High Desert, Chris Tillman made his second start last night since getting promoted from Wisconsin, and it didn’t go well. It was never a good idea to put him in the California League at this point, and the early results are about as bad as we feared they would be. The M’s still believe in making their prospects fail at an early age – we still disagree with that idea of player development. No point rehashing the argument here, but needless to say, I feel bad for Chris Tillman. A promising season from a young kid was just flushed down the drain in lieu of seeing how he overcomes artificial adversity.
The hottest hitter in the organization resides in Wisconsin, where Kuo-Hui Lo began the season 22 for his first 120, a paltry .183 average, with all of 3 extra base hits, 7 walks, and 23 strikeouts in his first 31 games. Struggling didn’t begin to define it. But he’s reminding people why they like the bat, as he’s now 15 for his last 35 with 5 extra base hits, 4 walks, and 4 strikeouts in his last 10 games. He’s driving the ball, working the count, and showing that there is life in his bat.
And no Future Forty would be complete without a note about my underaged mancrush, Carlos Triunfel. He hit .326/.357/.424 in May, as a 17-year-old in the Midwest League. He showed some real power, driving 7 extra base hits, and actually drew walks in back to back games. His game is still ridiculously raw (he’s been picked off of first base four times in two months), but the bat is just so very special. He’s now only the second Mariner prospect ever to receive a 10 reward rating on the Future Forty. He’s still all projection at this point, but the ceiling is basically limitless. He’s got a real chance to be the next great Mariner hitter, and it’s been a long time since we had a prospect we could write that about.